While on a recent walk outside the city, I more fully noticed the changes that were taking place as we approached mid-winter. (Note that I define mid-winter in terms of the solar seasons; thus mid-winter occurs on the winter solstice -- December 21) Here in Victoria, seasonal changes are more subtle than those on the continent, tempered by the surrounding ocean waters. There was no denying that nature had retreated for a time, pulling back from the harvest and activity of autumn, awaiting the coming of spring. The salmon spawn on the Goldstream River was done leaving the carcasses in the shallow waters to feed eagles and ravens and gulls. Some life streams had ended while new ones were beginning.
My walk through Goldstream Park took me past the remains of an event that took place three years ago when one of the great red cedars that grew in the parking area blew down in a strong storm. Estimated to be nearly 500 years old, the giant tree had moved on to the next phase of its life cycle. The great cedar had split just above the roots, due to the force of the gale or perhaps due to the pressure of the rain-swollen river forcing the roots out of the soil. How does not really matter; what mattered was the result. The cedar had ended the second phase of its life and entered the third. Had humans not been around to alter the cycle, the trunk of the tree would have lasted where it fell for probably another 300 years before completely disappearing as dust and soil on the forest floor. It may have served as a nurse log for countless smaller trees and other vegetation and the home for billions of organisms during those centuries. To it, the span of a human lifetime is but a short flicker in its cycle. You see, a tree measures time differently. It still responds to the cycles of night and day and the seasons, but it also lives to see the passing of centuries.
Humans not only perceive time differently from trees and other species, but also differently among individuals and cultures. Humans have body times that generally respond to time cycles of hours to years and perhaps a few decades. Before the 12th or 13th Century, the concepts of minutes and seconds were abstractions to all humanity. Only when scientist needed to further divide time to observe events did the hour become divided into smaller, precise segments. On the other end of the time scale, astronomers and geologists, have given us an awareness of great spans of time. But for most of us, these are just large numbers to ponder.
We have little concept of the distant past or equally distant future. Without the voice of sages, we would have little awareness of eternity or the needs of generations more than one or two ahead of us. Perhaps it is only through wizards like Merlin who live their lives backwards in time that we are able to see into that future or back into the past. I can go back three generations in my understanding because I knew one of my great-grandparents, and now I can go ahead two more generations in my life experience. But what if I go back the seven generations of which the American native elders speak. Did any of those 128 people whose life energies have combined to become me have any idea what kind of world I would be living in? Of course not, they would have expected my world to be not much different from theirs. Even words we now take for granted: computer, television, automobile, transistor would have been as incomprehensible as those of a Martian.
Seeing the changes which have taken place in my nearly 50 years of life, I have no idea what to expect of the world of my great, great-grandchildren, should my line continue that far ahead. I personally realize that my actions and inactions today and every day of my life will have an impact on their world in some way. These are immense responsibilities to lay on these mortal shoulders. The same responsibility lies on the shoulders of everyone reading these words as well as those who will never read them. And if I look some 200 years up the family tree to the seventh generation to spring from my genes, I realize that I am sharing each child from the G-Seven with 127 others who have lived in the second half of the 20th Century, most of whom rang in the 3rd Millennium with me.
I only know that I know one of you well. I have met or spoken briefly with perhaps two others. Most of the rest will be the surprise I will never see in this reality. So when I write my words in this piece or anywhere else, I may be speaking to someone with whom I will share my genes seven generations hence or perhaps sooner. I hope that, like the red cedar, my eventual falling will produce a nurse log which will nourish generations to come.
That is why I look again to the start of another new year (and to many an new millennium) with hope and a sense of responsibility and stewardship. That is the story of the celebrations of the year's end. May my simple gifts grow through the years. I walk toward home now, giving one last glace at the place once occupied by the great red cedar and to the river filled with the waning energies of birth and death. I hope I remember its lesson, that life does not end with the fall, but that the energies of accumulated living echo into the future.